ATA set to celebrate 100-year milestone

More than 380 tennis players are expected to compete in the upcoming national championships in South Florida sponsored by the American Tennis Association, the nation’s oldest black sports organization.

Unfortunately, I will not be among them. But I am proud to say my name will be among those listed in the Centennial Journal as a member of the 2016 club.

For a donation of $20.16, I have assured myself a place in the permanent history of the ATA as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. The organization was founded in November 1916 by a group of black tennis clubs who met in Washington, D.C.

This year’s tournament in Fort Lauderdale will be the ATA’s 99th national championships. It will be held July 30-Aug. 6 at The Tennis Club of Fort Lauderdale and the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center.

Competition begins July 30 with the men’s and women’s open. The winners and runners-up will receive $1,000 and $500 respectively. Past winners include Arthur Ashe, a three-time men’s singles champion.

Arthur Ashe

Play in the remaining age and NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) categories for adults, as well as the boys and girls junior matches, will begin on Aug. 1.

The event will kick off a yearlong celebration, building momentum for the 100th national championships in 2017. Plans call for that tournament to be held at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, where it all began.

The historical significance of this year’s tournament has created an excitement level among many members not seen in recent years, said Albert Tucker, vice president for multicultural business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I’m finding that a lot of members who have been in the ATA for a long time, but haven’t been (to the national championship) in a few years, are coming back for the anniversary,” Tucker told me.

Tucker, who is involved in ATA’s effort to build a permanent home and training center in Fort Lauderdale, is excited about the something-for-everyone events schedule to make the tournament a fun-filled week for the junior and adult players as well as families and supporters.

Highlights include a welcoming BBQ on July 31, a dinner cruise on Aug. 1 and a VIP reception on Aug. 2 at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center.

Guests at the reception will be treated to a showing of the Althea Gibson documentary “Althea,” followed by a panel discussion among black tennis pros Leslie Allen, Lori McNeil and Bob Davis.

Althea Gibson

The film chronicles Gibson’s journey from the cotton fields of South Carolina “to being greeted by the Queen of England at Wimbledon,” said Davis, founder of the Black Tennis History Museum.

Gibson, who broke the tennis color barrier and became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam championship — she won the French Open in 1956 and consecutive Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in 1957-58 — captured the ATA women’s singles title 10 consecutive years beginning in 1947.

Davis, who is registered to play in this year’s men’s 65 doubles and singles events and is a previous men’s doubles champion, said he trained with Gibson and “went through the trials and tribulations with her” during an era when tennis was still segregated in America.

Though a lot has changed inside and outside the ATA since those days, Davis said, the group’s relevance has remained strong.

“It’s still significant,” he told me. “This history of the organization is just so remarkable.”

Next year, I plan to take part in the centennial national championships in Baltimore, either as a player or spectator.

Anyone care to join me?




4 thoughts on “ATA set to celebrate 100-year milestone

  1. Congratulations to the American Tennis Association on achieving the century milestone for the famous organization. It is an amazing accomplishment that deserves recognition. There are a lot of fans of this organization, however, who find it very difficult to access information about this famous organization that nurtured so many of the famous black tennis players produced in this country. It would be great to have someone answer the phone when you call the ATA to become a member or at the least, return your call and provide information you are searching for in order to be a part of this great history. Instead, there is only silence from the ATA phone system. They don’t seem to return messages. I have heard this complaint too many times.

    The ATA needs to move into the 21st century. If we were in the 1950’s, your call would be returned. In 2016, however, it is harder to get information or a response from the ATA . There is so much technology today that there is no excuse for this kind of silence. This organization needs to update its history of the great players and their tournament results.The ATA kept poor records over the decades about its tournament results and other pertinent information that people would like to know and it doesn’t appear that any attempt is being made within the organization to do much to recover it. Kudos to Arthur Carrington, a former ATA champion, on his book Black Tennis: An Archival Collection: 1890-1962. This book has an abundance of information on Black Tennis and on the champions of the ATA in so many divisions over the century. It goes a long way to inform the reader of who the champions were from one era to the next. There are holes in its information too. For example, some of the results in the book are incomplete, but it is a start that would help the ATA recover some of its great history and with a little more research, they may find the answer to the missing results by researching in other libraries around the country.

    I applaud the decision to hold the nationals in 2017 in Baltimore, Md. What a brilliant decision to return to the birth place of the nationals. I would recommend that the ATA consider revisiting other famous sites like Tuskegee, Wilberforce, Ohio, Hampton University, Lincoln University and any other great venues where championships were held where facilities still exists today and would allow the ATA to teach others about its great history. It would be quite the lesson.

    What are the prospects for becoming a financially solvent organization that makes money like the USTA and trains future juniors to earn college scholarships and perhaps join the world tennis tour? It is about time we move into the 21st century. The ATA is still relevant today!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bobby, I appreciate your comment and wholeheartedly agree. You can imagine the difficulty I have had in trying to connect with the ATA’s leadership. I’m still waiting to receive my membership card, though I do get the monthly email that includes the latest issue of Black Tennis Magazine.
      What I have gleaned is there is currently there seems to be just one person handling ATA business. Let’s hope the plans for the organization’s headquarters and tennis academy are successful, and the ATA becomes more than just a virtual operation.


  2. My brothers were ball boys at the ATA National Tournament when it was hosted at Central State University in Wilberforce, OH. The historical venues would not be attractive now, and the facilities might be sub-par, too. I’m glad ATA will be hosted in Baltimore next year. I haven’t played in an ATA tournament since 1995, so this could be big fun. Looking forward to it!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim. You know, I would love to see some kind of tournament circuit at those old venues — historically black colleges and universities, we should add — that would lead up to the ATA nationals. Something similar to the U.S. Open series played in the states.


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